The language of faith cries to be free

In the open-source software world, advocates make a distinction between “free as in beer” and “free as in freedom.” While free (of cost) beer is nice, the freedom to share, modify, extract and even profit from (depending on the license) is truly precious, and has allowed an ecosystem to develop around not only software but cultural and (a favorite) other projects. Even beer.

But Christians I’ve read, looking towards the same phenomenon have used another similie: “free as in grace.” This suggests an alternative to free in economic, practical, intellectual or utilitarian terms. If something is compellingly true, and has its origins apart from human initiative — let me put that out there tentatively — then that truth demands cooperation of those who hear it to liberate it for the sake of liberation. So, I think of evangelistic tracts which long before free culture movements have been distributed “free as the Lord provides.” (Free here being largely financial, but the fact the sponsor comes from the Free Churches isn’t lost on me.)

But see also of the Jewish liturgical Open Siddur movement. Or the DVD I picked up yesterday at a Chinese grocery — and is the proximate reason for this blog post — from a Buddhist mission. (Alas, the videos seem to be of a monk speaking one language I don’t understand, and subtitled with a different language I don’t understand.)

There’s not much English on the case. But I can read “For Free Distribution — No Copyright.”  And that’s a good enough reason for me to take it back so someone else can profit by it.

I’ve written on this subject several times, please consider reading

5 Replies to “The language of faith cries to be free”

  1. Well, a little early here for me, and not sure I follow all, but one attribute I think of open-source (free) is it spurs creativity. Closed source tends to stifle in my experience.

  2. Software-wise, neither the Free Software Foundation nor the Open Source Initiative consider licenses that do not allow you to make a profit to be really free/open-source (“free” is such a bad adjective in English — which is why I tend to abbreviate it as FLOSS, throwing in the Latin-derived French adjective libre in the mix). It’s more common to see Creative Commons-licensed non-commercial artifacts than to see the equivalently-licensed software.

    The Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer is intentionally in the public domain, and likewise Holy Women, Holy Men, the book on minor feasts.

  3. I’ve written before on how the U.S. Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer is — and always been; not true in other Anglican national churches — in the public domain, and even mentioned this to someone yesterday. I’m convinced it’s what’s given the Episcopalians so much credit in the American liturgical scene: everyone uses their liturgy, to some degree. But I didn’t know about Holy Women, Holy Men. That’s a good turn, seeing as how other of their supplemental works and translations are under copyright.

  4. Actually, if you follow the links, Holy Women, Holy Men isn’t in the public domain like the BCP is. It is copyright — but they are choosing to post it as a .pdf so people can download it freely, and they also give permission to congregations to copy it for their own internal use. (Which is still a lot better than many other churches do.)

  5. Bad wording on my part, apologies. As Tim stated, HWHM is still copyrighted, though hopefully they’d relax the restrictions in the future — won’t it be wonderful if they standardize on a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license!

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